An Executive Director's point of view
October 10, 2016: Lead with the lead
If you are announcing a policy position, for example, start with the position, not with the background or identification of the problem. That can follow. The adopted position is what's most important.
If you are sending a notice about an awards competition, start with the outcome of the process: "Congratulations! You have been named winner of the (name) award..." or "We're sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for the (name) award..."
You can explain the selection process and other details afterward.
Don't force people to read through the body of a communication to find out its purpose.
Lead with what matters most.
May 03, 2016: Read it again
Typos are far too common on email messages, and the same laxity that leads to those mistakes seems to be spilling over into communications that people feel are far more important.
The best solution is to slow down and read the copy again.
Here are some more tips.
January 06, 2016: Punctuation
That is really silly.
A text with no punctuation at the end looks unfinished. Was it prematurely sent? Did part of it get cut off? It's like stopping in mid-sentence while speaking.
Punctuation usage is not about being prim and proper. It's just common sense.
A period at the end of a reply indicates the thought is complete.
Absence of a period at the end of a sentence is just careless and lazy.
And it's unfortunate that so many people will tolerate that, just as they do misspelled words, missing words, gross grammatical errors, and replies that obviously hadn't been proofread, because they often mean the opposite of what the sender apparently meant to say.
So, I will continue using punctuation. Period.
November 09, 2015: Bad infographics
A busy infographic is as bad as a busy slide or a densely written report that spits out long sentences and offers few paragraph breaks.
Pictures can be worse than text.
July 14, 2015: Write for your audience
"The...Circuit in this opinion basically upheld the District Court's ruling that denied the appellant's motion for summary judgment."
The problem? Most non-lawyers don't know what a summary judgment is. And they don't need to know whether a motion (whatever that is) was upheld or denied, or at what judicial level the action was taken.
They just need to know who won, who lost, what was the penalty, and if the case is finished or if it was sent on to another court.
When talking to people outside of your industry or profession (and, maybe, to some of your colleagues, too), use lay language. It will not make you sound less professional or less intelligent.
But it will make it more possible for you to successfully communicate with your audience(s).
July 13, 2015: What is collaboration?
One of the keywords they frequently utter is "collaboration."
Does collaboration mean involving a lot of people in the decision-making process? Does it mean discussing things within a group and arriving at a consensus? Does it mean a group votes on everything?
Does it mean providing input to the leader? Does it mean that the leader should invite and welcome input? Does it mean that everybody in a work setting should be equal and there should be no leaders?
Does it mean the creation of a culture where everybody talks about stuff before a decision is made?
If you want to ensure that lots of people have input, then say that. Words like "collaboration" don't mean the same thing to everybody.
July 08, 2015: How to report success
They don't care. They are members and/or customers and/or supporters, not shareholders. They will not benefit financially.
Instead, tell them what new and better services the organization will provide. That's what they care about.
Tell them about new educational programs, improved online registration, better industry alerts, more thorough data analyses, upgraded advocacy efforts, or whatever it is they value from your group.
Tout news about financial growth to your Board, so it will be proud of the organization's ability to deliver more to its audiences (and so it can credit you with helping make that possible).
Not-for-profit organizations exist to deliver more and better services, not to make money. They have to make money to deliver those services, but their success is measured by the services, not by the money.
So, tell everybody about the services, not about the money.
July 14, 2014: Be specific
Many problems occur in associations because people think they've understood what others have said. But many people define words, actions, and situations differently. They may not interpret information in the same way nor be able to read others' signs.
So, be sure you and those with whom you interact understand each other. Clarify terms, restate goals and work directives, repeat discussion summaries, and confirm final decisions - even in writing, if necessary.
Don't be afraid of appearing slow or dumb or unable to remember things. Misunderstandings today can lead to monumental conflicts tomorrow.
January 03, 2014: Ditch the elevator pitch?
July 09, 2013: The tone of your email
Folks post messages in all sorts of ways, and they're usually just trying to get their messages across quickly in whatever way they feel most comfortable.
(I guess you shouldn't be overly concerned about grammar or spelling, either).